The last week of December provides a special kind of torture for many of us. Hannukah and Christmas are over, but it’s not time to go back to real life just yet. There’s one more so-called “holiday” ahead, just waiting to be a disappointment to perennially hopeful revelers. I’m talking, of course, about New Year’s Eve.
How can one change in the calendar inspire so much dread? All over the world, we count down to the moment when we can officially put all our painful memories and disappointments firmly in the past and while toasting our newly hopeful futures 2017 felt more difficult than other years — thanks, President Trump — but that should be all the more reason to go into New Year's Eve feeling obligated to be festive. Right? Right?!
Every year provides enough “bad news” stories to toast its end on December 31, but even a short summary of 2017’s biggest events make it sound superlatively bad. The U.S. inaugurated Donald Trump. Congress passed a tax bill that will further enrich the wealthiest Americans at the expense of everyone else; mass shootings are still more or less commonplace; millions of Puerto Ricans are still struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria; the last two months have brought horrific stories of sexual violence at a near-daily pace.
And 2018 is another election year.
How can one change in the calendar inspire so much dread?
In fact, it takes an enormous amount of energy to stay hopeful. The world as a whole is so terrifying and uncertain that it feels especially pointless to make resolutions this year. If there’s a chance of war with North Korea, why cut down on sodium? Self-improvement is always admirable, but decades of relentless focus on one specific month as our yearly transformation starting point has poisoned the concept. Jokes about failing at resolutions are as common as tips to sticking to them. Why not save the promises to eat healthier or run a marathon or finally clean out the garage for a month with plentiful daylight?
Even parties can’t neutralize the sense of letdown that New Year’s Eve brings. Want to go out? Bars and restaurants charge exorbitant amounts for access to special events, and even neighborhood dives often add a superfluous cover charge. Want to spend the night with friends? Good luck getting home once everyone decides to depart at the same time. If you are lucky enough to find a cab, expect traffic. If you go the Uber route, expect massive surge pricing.
Want to celebrate the possibilities of a clean slate in the middle of a hopeful crowd? People spend all of December 31st waiting to pack into New York's Times Square to watch the ball drop at midnight. Hundreds of thousands of people, in the cold, with no access to portable bathrooms and no way to save your spot if you pop to McDonald’s for a snack. If that sounds like your idea of a good time, go for it. But don’t complain when that one glass of celebratory champagne equates to hours of trying not to pee your pants.
Maybe it’s time for some new traditions, ones that don’t require a game of sardines with strangers.
Maybe it’s time for some new traditions, ones that don’t require playing a collective game of sardines with thousands of strangers. It’s tempting to suggest some sort of ceremonial fire; send the old man of the outgoing year the way of the Wicker Man. At least then there could be catharsis greater than a rousing fireworks show.
But destroying all signs of the past feels a bit too much like trying to bury it, and that’s not exactly a positive way to tackle the coming 12 months. Why not move the whole ritual to the spring, as the early Romans did? It’d make outdoor celebrations more pleasant, if not less pointless. Maybe then we’d be more likely to create traditions focused more on the positive around us, and less on drinking ourselves into a stupor.
And it’s time to introduce some new music to the holiday songbook. “All I Want For Christmas is You” became a modern classic almost immediately after it was released in 1994. Why not find a similarly updated song for New Year’s? The sweet nostalgia of “Auld Lang Syne” just rings hollow at a time when inequality is so pronounced and political divisions are so deep. A better anthem for the current moment would be along the lines of indie rock band the Mountain Goats’s classic ballad: “I am going to make it through this year/If it kills me.”
Now that’s a statement that I can toast to.
Meredith Clark is a freelance writer and editor in New York City.